Chapter 12: Goodbyes

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     Dawood ran through his exercise with ease before settling on a nearby bench. He glanced at his wedding ring and smiled at the thought of his wife back home. He had been married for nearly three months and felt as if Annie truly completed him. There were times when he wondered what was going on in her mind, as if she was holding something back. He chalked that up to her adjusting to American life and tried to be as understanding as possible. Generally speaking, he was growing closer to her day-by-day and he felt as if she was growing closer to him as well. After leaving Pakistan, he returned to work as normal and was currently stationed a few states away from his hometown. He was back on base with his fellow servicemen and women and life seemed to be going well. After taking a moment to stretch, he headed off towards the barracks.

     As he headed towards the barracks, he contemplated on getting something to eat from the pizza place on base. He glanced at his phone and knew that one familiar face was sure to be stuffing his face with a calzone right about now. He jogged over to the mini pizza stand and smiled as he spotted Elliott Van Horn. "Why don't you swallow that entire thing in one go?" Dawood called out before sitting across from Elliott. "Hey, Khan," Elliott grinned before taking a bite out of his steaming calzone. "Daily cheese and pepperoni calzone?" Dawood asked and smiled as Elliott nodded. "Heck yeah, man. After nearly getting blown up in Afghanistan, I've learned to cherish the little things. Like a daily calzone," Elliott smiled.

     Before Dawood could come up with another way to mess with his good friend, he felt his phone vibrate and glanced at the screen. "What's up, my brother?" Dawood answered with a smile, but felt his smile falter as Ahmed's voice shook on the other end. "D-Dawood?" Ahmed whispered. "Yeah? Ahmed are you okay?" Dawood asked in concern. "D-did Sulaiman call you?" Ahmed asked softly. He could hear the apprehension in Ahmed's voice and felt his own heart race at the thought of what could be wrong. "No. Why would he call me? He never calls me," Dawood said with a laugh that didn't quite reach his eyes. "That fucking asshole. I-I knew he wouldn't call. I-Dawood you need to get here immediately," Ahmed said urgently. "Why man? I'm at work. I can't just drop everything and go home," Dawood replied. "It's Auntie. She-she-," Ahmed began but his voice cracked.

     "What? What's wrong with Mama?" Dawood asked quickly as his heart raced. "She-she's not doing good, man She hasn't been doing good for a few days. Sulaiman said he called you, but you said you were busy. I knew that was bullshit. How could you be busy when it came to Auntie?" Ahmed said in exasperation. Dawood could hear that his brother was near tears and felt his own breath hitch, "Ahmed, how bad is Mama?" "Bro, sh-she's not going to make it. The doctors have told us to make preparations. Dawood, come home. Come see her one last time," Ahmed whispered as he began to sob. Dawood felt his phone clatter to the ground. This couldn't be happening. His mother. His rock. His life force was leaving him. He couldn't wrap his mind around that fact. How could she get so sick? He had seen her only last month and she seemed fine. Sure, she was weak but she said she was fine.

     "Khan? What's wrong with your mom, man?" Elliott asked as he shook Dawood's arm. "She's-she's-," Dawood began, but bit his bottom lip. He couldn't say it. He couldn't say that his mother was going to leave him. He couldn't say that she wasn't going to beat cancer. He couldn't say it, but knew he had to. "She's dying," Dawood whispered softly and shakily picked up his phone. Ahmed had hung up and sent him a message with flight details. He had purchased a ticket for Dawood and all he needed to do was catch it. "Is she in the hospital right now?" Elliott asked as he stood up abruptly. "Yeah. Th-they say she doesn't have much time. Man, fuck doctors. How can they say if someone's going to live or die? Who made them God?" Dawood asked angrily. "You need to go see her," Elliott whispered and placed some money on the table. "My brother booked me a flight. I have to get permission," Dawood said in a daze. "Come on. Let's go get permission and I'll take you to the airport," Elliott said as he pushed Dawood out of the pizza stall.

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